Day 18: All About Integrity

Matthew Lee 2014 Leave a Comment

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…“take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.”

Tonight, for the first time in MSBA’s three year history, a player agent was brought in for the Speaker Series to present that side of the industry to the group. Given the overwhelming interest among the class of 2014 in athlete representation, the desire to hear from someone working in that field was obvious, and MSBA was able to procure a highly prominent speaker in NFL agent Eugene Lee. Lee, who graduated from Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, Summa Cum Laude, as well as a Juris Doctorate degree from the law school, came into prominence when he was selected to be the subject of an ESPN Films documentary, “The Dotted Line.”

The documentary was able to truly highlight his approach to the industry, and the message was reinforced continuously and consistently throughout his presentation. The figures are grim. There are just over 700 certified NFL agents, while there are only approximately 1800 players in the league. The result of this is that 40+% of these agents represent no players, with the issue compounded by the fact that approximately 80% of the players within the league are represented by the top end 25% of agents. Even in this salacious industry filled with uncouth antics and individuals hell-bent on securing any meager advantage, even if it means skirting the law, Lee preaches integrity.

Lee led off with general words of advice to the group, emphasizing the need to “find a craft that calls to your soul” and to “take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.” Underlying every such action, however, must be honesty and integrity; particularly in the industry of athlete representation, this means that the clients’ needs must come above all else. The agent must be a “bulldog” at the athlete’s side through thick and thin, and be “[his] brother’s keeper” at all times, doing everything that can be done in the athlete’s best interests. This means that when it comes to contract negotiations, the agent must be able to remove emotion from the equation and consider what needs to be done to protect and maximize the athletes’ interests both in the short and long term. It means going the extra mile, and doing all possible due diligence, for the athletes, as Lee described in anecdotes detailing how he managed to get a completely unnoticed client on the radar of NFL teams, as well as how he managed to get a client’s unnecessary roughness fine rescinded.

Along with the ever present ideal of integrity comes an obligation for the agent to not merely be a “yes man” to his athletes, even if doing so puts the agent at risk of displeasing his clients. As mentioned, the agent’s job is to look out for the best interests of his clients, and should such interests conflict with the athletes’ immediate desires, it is the agent’s duty to explain the preferable course of action, and to be persistent in doing so. However, in the end it is in the athletes’ hands whether he will heed the advice of their agent. As Lee puts it, the agent can only “lead the horse to water, and stand beside it and wait… or perhaps push its head forward a bit when necessary.”

In seeking out potential clients, Lee also emphasizes integrity. While he and his agency, in scouting and evaluating players, will look to their productivity, game film, and measurables, the players ultimately targeted are required to be of high character. To proxy for such character, Lee looks to the players’ academic performance, any evidence of involvement within the community or the church, and whether the players pursued majors beyond the standard physical education curriculum designed to help them skirt by. Once such character is established, and the players have signed with the agency, Lee emphasizes the importance of projecting such an image to the public, as part of the players’ personal brands. Also vital to the development of their brands is discovering what distinguishes a particular player from others, and to extol these attributes at every opportunity. Everything a player does, or says, be it through interviews or social media, must be consistent with this brand.

Following his presentation, in addressing questions from the group, Lee remained consistent with his message. While he is aware of numerous incidents of scrupulous behavior from his competitors, he maintained his principled stance against competing in such a manner, going so far as to refuse to sign players who have accepted gifts from other agents. In the face of data suggesting that 78% of NFL players are bankrupt within 5 years of retirement, Lee continues to look out for his clients even after their playing career has finished, doing whatever is needed to transition these athletes to the real world, and the rest of their lives.

Witnessing the success that Lee has achieved, hopefully the students of MSBA will realize that it is possible to be a beacon of light in an industry where much of the action takes place in the shade, and to continue pursuing their passions be it in sports or elsewhere, with similar honor and integrity.

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